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Volunteer Diaries: Birch Aquarium

Volunteer Michelle Harris shares her experience teaching marine biology and supporting conservation efforts
A volunteer at San Diego's Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla teaching kids about tide pools
Courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is not only a place where visitors can get up close and personal with their favorite sea creatures, but also a center for science and conservation dedicated to protecting the ocean. More than half a million people visit the aquarium each year to view its exhibits and enjoy hands-on experiences, some led by volunteers like Michelle Harris. Harris spends her spare time wherever she’s needed and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty—or wet, in this case. 

What made you want to become a volunteer for Birch Aquarium?

I moved to the San Diego area from the Bay Area in late 2022, but I’ve lived all over. I was born in the Midwest and grew up in Hawaii, so I have a connection with the ocean—tide pools were part of my childhood for sure. I loved that Birch Aquarium was a smaller aquarium and was really dedicated to animal preservation and education. Conservation and protecting the environment is something near and dear to my heart. Not everybody has access to the ocean and to be able to give back in that way and provide that experience is unique. 

Birch Aquarium at Scripps volunteer Michelle Harris
Courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps

What do your volunteer duties entail? 

I try to do whatever is needed. Sometimes I read, sometimes I help in the classroom. It’s based on what the need is and the availability I have and how I feel. It could be interacting with kids or the tide pools or helping out at a corporate event. They offer a variety of areas that volunteers are able to help in. 

Can you describe your favorite or most memorable experience while volunteering? 

One of my favorite things is to see some people’s initial reaction with wildlife. For example, in the tide pools when you’re showing people different species of shark eggs, and some people don’t even know that sharks lay eggs, or they’d seen them washed up on shore but didn’t know what they were. I think that’s fun. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Just trying to make time. That’s the biggest challenge because it’s so rewarding. 

Any advice for someone considering volunteering as a way to give back?

Definitely give it a shot and contact the volunteer office. There’s a lot of information on Birch Aquarium’s website. Look at the things that are important and see if your values align. Do something because your heart is in it. 

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